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Bots, Ads, and the Problem No One Really Wants to Solve

40% of ad dollars gets wasted on bots. No one has an incentive to solve the problem. Ethical "bot-free" marketing could stand out in the future.


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Eric Sentell

a year ago | 2 min read

There are some problems that everyone knows about, but no one really wants to solve.

Why? Because their incentives drive them to ignore the problem.

Companies spend billions of dollars every year to hire advertising companies to place ads on websites whose traffic include larger numbers of bots.

Bots, or fake online users, account for up to 40% of all website traffic by some estimates.That means 40 cents of every $1.00 of advertising gets wasted on non-humans.

Of course, some percentage of advertising always gets wasted. If you buy a billboard advertising your pet store, then you've wasted some of your money on the drivers who don't own pets or have any desire to own one.

Bots are a different problem. Advertising “middle-men” take money from companies to place ads on a plethora of websites. These “middle-men” may demand higher rates because of the huge traffic the ads will receive.

They know the numbers are inflated. But they have every incentive to ignore the presence of bots and continue charging for traffic that appears 40% higher.

Even worse, some online advertisers create fake websites to which they route fake users. Cyber-criminals can create thousands of fake domains, rent thousands of servers, and program those servers to traffic the domains like a human might.

Legitimate websites don't have any incentive to eliminate bots and reduce their traffic by up to 40%. The controversy of Twitter and Elon Musk illustrates the issue.

The Association of National Advertisers estimated that ad fraud costs $120 billion a year, only to retract their own blog post for unclear reasons.

In some cases, the companies paying the “middle-men” also know that bots artificially inflate the web traffic. But they're reluctant to admit that they're wasting millions of dollars advertising to computers.

That would be embarrassing and probably cost some people their jobs.

As long as everyone's making money, no one has an incentive to solve the problem of bots and advertising.

Bot-Free Advertising?

But that doesn't mean someone can't solve the problem.

Marketers can position themselves as “ethical, bot-free ad placement." They can stand out in the crowded field and build trust and loyalty with clients.

Every problem is an opportunity for somebody.

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Eric Sentell

Eric Sentell holds a PhD in Composition & Rhetoric. He teaches writing and coordinates General Education at a public university. He writes entertaining articles that help people think, write, and feel better.


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